Sunday, October 21, 2012

There's More Than One Way To Be Confused

The problem with being a terrible writer is that i never know how to write what i want to say. At least that's how it seems most of the time, but i'm wondering if the problem, at least some of the time, is that i can't write something because i still haven't decided what i really think about a subject.

Hmmmmm....... So, i've delayed enough that i'm just going to start typing and see what comes out.

I think we decided that i'm not a fan of tariki, except for those moments when i am. I think we decided that i'm firmly in the jiriki camp, even though we all know that most of what we do is outside of our control.

Make sense so far? I didn't think so. Try living in my head for awhile and you'll really come to understand confusion. (or delusion? but i'm not going there...)

From my perspective, just like the Buddhist concepts of Ultimate Reality and Conventional Reality, tariki and jiriki are simply two ways of looking at the world. At times, tariki is appropriate, at other times, jiriki is appropriate. Attempting to confine them to opposite corners of the ring and preventing them from slugging it out in the center of the ring just doesn't make sense. In fact, it's impossible; locked arm-in-arm, swinging with both fists and fighting it out in center ring (i.e., your life) is the only place the two concepts can survive.

There is only one person who is responsible for Dave's life, there is only one person who can be responsible for that life, and that is me, the jiriki believing, conventional reality inhabiting me. Nothing gets done without my doing it. Nothing gets learned without my studying it. Nothing is let go of, nothing is surrendered without my agreeing to the release. I'm the only one who can tell Dave to sit his butt down on the zafu, to tell him to start the timer, and tell him to look for his breath until "things" settle down.

But once that settling has taken place, once Dave is gone, I'm once again free to sit on that zafu, free to breath, free to live. It's this I, the same I that you would talk about when you disappear on your zafu, that really runs things. It is this I that is the tariki believing, ultimate reality inhabitant.

So, back to where this was supposed to go.... If tariki means acknowledging some god, buddha, or other deity as the ultimate decider and doer in my life, then i'm don't accept it as a valid or useful part of my life's philosophy. If, on the other hand, tariki means acknowledging that Dave is nothing more than this bag of skin, with a brain and all of the other useful organs stuffed inside, trained and conditioned from birth to act, think, and do in certain unthought-about ways, and that the real me, the I that is you at one and the same time, is who i really am, and that that I is the "other" in tariki,... (whew)... then yes, i can see a place for tariki.

Which brings be all the way back to the henro trail. I occasionally tell stories about how the Daishi was watching out for me on the trail, how things were going wrongly until the Daishi stepped in and set them straight. A lot of henro have similar stories. Part of henro lore is that the Daishi walks with each and every henro, accompanying them and aiding them as necessary. In fact, that's why i start each walk with a trip to Mt. Kōya and the Daishi's mausoleum. I go there to ask for his help and company. Only after doing that do i go to Shikoku and begin walking.

But here is where i have to be honest. I do not believe that the ghost or spirit of that 9th-10th century monk is actually there watching over me. Sorry, but i don't think he is sitting in eternal meditation. When his followers closed the doors on his mausoleum all those many centuries ago, he was really, really dead. (I can't believe i just said that in public)

Yet i do say, still say, and will continue to say that the Daishi accompanies all henro that ask him, that the Daishi watches out for us and keeps us out of trouble, that the Daishi brings help when it's needed. I know that sounds like a contradiction and that i'm firmly in the "other power" camp here, relying on the power of that eternally meditating, unceasingly watchful, always ready to help, promoted to deity status, Kōbō Daishi.

I say it, though, because for me, "the Daishi" is symbolic for that I i talked about above, that I that doesn't walk the henro, trail, on Shikoku, in Spring, even though it's there every second of every day that Dave is doing just that. The Daishi is symbolic for everything Dave sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, and thinks while on the trail, even though he is none of those. The Daishi is who walks in Dave's shoes when Dave steps out on a break.

I, Dave, firmly believe in tariki, if the "other" referred to is the nothing that manifests as everything, the non-sense that makes sense of everything. And it's when Dave can step out of the way and let that "other" take care of things that it appears that the Daishi is there watching out for him and keep him out of trouble.

I guess the only way to say this is that Dave is firmly in the jiriki camp but I'm in the tariki camp. But, i'm not sure if that sounds all that clear.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sailing With The Wind

While certainly not my last thoughts on the subject, this is where i'll leave these ruminations on Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace.

Surprisingly, a month after having read it i'm no closer to answering the questions i had when i first picked up the book. Or, maybe that's not true and i did find answers — the tariki road is not for me and that has become even more certain. In a way, you could say that is an answer simply because it eliminated one variable in that hugely complex equation that we call life.

One thing that strikes me even today is the similarities i see between Itsuki's beliefs and that of Vedanta as laid out in the Bhagavad Gita. In several places throughout his book, Itsuki clearly states that he lives his days with the motto "There is nothing i can do" on the tip of his tongue. Amida is the final arbiter of everything he does. But, he makes it clear that that in no way implies a life of non-action.

Itsuki uses a very nice analogy in the book that addresses this issue. Picture a sailboat on a lake, a boat with only sails, no motor of it's own. Without an external wind, there is nothing it can do. The boat and the sailor will just sit, dead in the water, unless there is a wind to provide propulsion. How the sailor uses that wind depends on his strength and skill, how he sets his sails. All are provided the same propulsion, some use it wisely some use it poorly.

When there is no wind, though, a good sailor doesn't just lay on the deck and sleep, crying "there is nothing i can do." No, a good sailor is working on the boat, maintaining and cleaning it, making improvements, getting it ready for when a wind does appear, so that the boat, and himself, are in a position to make the best use of it. Non-action, doing nothing, is the fools way of waiting for the wind.

In the Bhagavad Gita a similar story occurs. In short, when Krishna takes Arjuna out between the two armies so he can survey the scene, Arjuna panics. On the opposing side he sees relatives, friends, teachers, gurus, and countless other people he can't imaging having to kill in the upcoming battle. He freezes in the indecision that overtakes him; do my duty as a warrior or do my duty as a family member?

Arjuna can't make the decision so throws down his bow and says he will not fight. Of course Krishna must have looked at him as if he is a complete idiot, and says "What? Are you an idiot? It's your duty!" When that didn't change his mind, Krishna tries several other approaches but the one i'm interested in is this: "Listen, your job is action, not the results of that action. You have control over what actions you do and how you do them. You have no control over the results of those actions. That's not for you to worry or panic over since it is out of your control. Just do the action to the best of your ability and accept whatever result may come."

From this angle, Jodo Shin Shu and Vedanta are on the exact same sailboat.

But, that's where i get stuck. I absolutely agree, i mean 100+%, that when we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that both Itsuki and Krishna are correct. All we can do is concern ourselves with is how we approach and do the actions we do. Any and all results are outside of our control. There are too many variables involved in even the simplest of actions for us to control the outcome. Outcomes our completely beyond our control. We can steer very carefully and very precisely towards our chosen port, we can be mindful of every variable we are aware of, masterfully correcting here and adjusting there, but who's to say that, at the very, very last second, a gust of wind won't suddenly appear and push us into the wharf? Who's to say it can not happen? No one can say that. It could. The results are out of our control.

I accept that as a given. I can do the best i can do in any situation, but know that the final result is out of my hands. It may usually/frequently/occasionally/sometimes end as planned and hoped, but it is impossible to say it will end that way every time, guaranteed. So why, then, do i not accept the viewpoint of tariki over jiriki?

I know i have a piece of the answer, but it doesn't completely satisfy me yet. The obvious answer is that this is not an either/or discussion. It's not that i think tariki has no merit and jiriki is everything, or that Itsuki thinks jiriki has no merit and tariki is the only answer. That's obviously not true as Itsuki laid out in his book (remember the yacht skipper).

The final dilemma comes, i think, when you try to view past the horizon looking for the wind. Itsuki sees Amida out there, i don't. Itsuki sees a Buddha ready and willing to help, i see nothing except the horizon.

Yes, the results of my actions our out of my control. Yes, i can only be certain of the effects of my actions to a limited extent. Past that point, though, uncertainty reigns. And that's where i leave it, at uncertainty. There is no one to pick up the slack and make it certain again. Nature takes its course, not Amida.

So, having written that, i guess i have one more post to write on the subject. About the henro trail and the Daishi. Maybe tomorrow.

Certain of nothing
The dice are scattered anew
A new day new life

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Your Choice

Hiroyuki Itsuki wrote:
"Some may deride this view as negative and pessimistic, but this was the starting point for the Buddha. Emerging from a life of privilege and shelter, he looked directly at the reality of human existence and saw birth, old age, sickness, and death as its essence. This view of human existence as defined by birth, old age, sickness, and death is the ultimate expression of negative thinking."

In a previous post i agreed with Itsuki and offered that i do deride his views as negative and pessimistic. I need to back off that a little here. I wrote that because "deride" was the word he offered, but it has bothered me since then. I certainly do not deride him for his views. There is no contempt in my opposing opinions, there is no mocking intended here. But, i do disagree with him.

I don't deride his views, nor do i look down on him for having them. As long as they don't hurt others, or incite others to hurt others, then everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions. Whether you accept them or not everyone will have their own views opinions, and most of those will be different than your own. In fact, i would make the argument that no two people on the planet have the exact same views — we all, everyone of us inhabit our own personal world and have, therefore, our own, specifically personal, world views.

It's just that in my way of looking at this world it seems to me that he has chosen among the worst of all possible options — impossibly negative and pessimistic, assuming the worst, giving up all hope for the best. From my perch, if you never expect anything good, that's what you'll get ... nothing good. If you never expect happiness and fulfillment, that's what you'll get ... unhappiness and an unfulfilled life.

I can't say that Itsuki is wrong and i'm right, of course not, but i do thank my lucky stars that i somehow escaped that black hole of negativity that seems to have sucked him in.

In any case, back to what he wrote. Seeing that old age, sickness, and death define human existence, that they provide the broadest of outlines inside of which we live our lives, is not the ultimate expression of negative thinking, but simply a recognition of what it means to be alive, the "reality of human existence," as Itsuki said.

The ultimate expression of negative thinking would be to take this understanding of reality to its ultimate end and say that, since we will all ultimately get old and die, what use is there to live? What use is there to have children? When you bring them into the world all you are doing is condemning them to die. From their first breath they are condemned. Why bother putting them through that?

But that is not what the Buddha said. He accepted this as the basic fact of life, but questioned whether or not that was the whole story. And in the end, he rejected that option and pointed out a different way of looking at our lives. He took the ultimately positive road and said that even inside that broad outline of certain aging and death there is something that we can do about suffering, there is a wondrous life that can be lived. Even in the most horrendous of circumstances, there is, if not happiness, then at least peace and contentedness to be found.

What matters is how you define your life, how you define what you see through that rolling window of circumstances and events that is your life. Buddha taught that your world ("the" world, from your perspective) is something you personally create, define, organize, and maintain. You can define and maintain a wold full of suffering, hopelessness, despair, and surrender or you can define and maintain a world full of compassion, love, hope, and goodness.

Everything about your world is defined by your mind and your mind alone. Everything in your world is judged and evaluated by your mind and your mind alone. Everything in your world is as it is in your mind and your mind alone. And there is no reason that you can not train your mind to see, experience, and live in a better world. This is not ultimately negative, it is the epitome of positivity. You are in charge, you can have as much happiness as you want, you can be anything you want. All you have to do is put in the effort.

Yes, what happens "out there" may be completely out of your control. But how you react to it "in here" is under no one's control but your own. Choose the high road and the low road will disappear.

But, even more importantly than all that is the question "What is life?" Is it that period between birth and death? Is there really such a thing as birth and death or just different and constantly changing ways that "we" manifest?

As long as we maintain the illusion that there is a "me" and those "others," there will be those problems which others cause for me. So the Buddha also offered the ultimate solution. Wake up; see for yourself that ultimately there are no problems that anyone can cause you, no difficulties too difficult to bear, no hardships worth wrangling your hands over, because "you" are not the one experiencing them. If experience is part of the equation, then you're looking at the wrong "you." The real you, the real other, isn't born, doesn't experience, doesn't suffer, and doesn't die.

The Buddha taught two ways of dealing with suffering, neither of which was pessimistic or negative. Accept a difference between yourself and everything else but train your mind to reject negativity, hatred, aggression, and greed, and, instead, live a life of compassion, love, and hope. Or, realize there is no difference, in which case there is no difference.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Hiroyuki Itsuki wrote:
"When one is accustomed to kindness, one naturally loses the feeling of gratitude. That's why it's so important not to become accustomed to it. One must continually return to the spiritual starting point of no expectations."

In today's world, at least in the parts of the world i have visited, it seems true that people have overwhelmingly lost the feeling of gratitude. I can't argue with that first sentence. People, in general, have come to expect, not just kindness, but an easy life.

The food for your meals is readily available, in all sorts of varieties and pricing. The fuel for your vehicle is readily available at a pump not too far away. The main roads you use to get to work are repaired as soon as problems develop. Gas, electricity, and water are piped and wired right into your home so you have heat, electricity, and toilets on demand whenever you want them. These also keep your refrigerator running so your food stays fresh and you aren't required to go shopping every day. With the turn of a knob, your stove comes to life and food preparation is quick and easy. Drinking water? Turn another tap.

We have become accustomed to an easy life. Most of us do simply take it for granted. And, AND, we are wrong for doing so. But, the way to correct our mistake is not to return to "no expectations," but to open our eyes and hearts and once again teach ourselves to see where everything in our lives comes from. To understand that we have what we have, our lives are what they are, only because others have provided for us — and be genuinely grateful for their offerings.

This is not a difficult thing to do. When you open the refrigerator and take out a carton of milk, take 2 seconds and remember that someone raised the cow that produced the milk. Someone dedicated their days to caring for and feeding those cows. Someone drove a truck to that dairy farm and transported the milk to where it is processed. People worked in that factory as well. Someone scheduled the pickup to ship the cartons of fresh milk to the grocery store. Another driver drove it there and unloaded it. Someone stocked the shelves at the store so you could access it. Someone checked you out when you finished shopping.

Someone designed and built the equipment used on that dairy farm. Someone designed, built, and maintained those trucks used in transporting everything. Someone designed and built the carton your milk comes in. Someone built and maintains the machines where those cartons are made. Someone maintains and cleans the grocery store. Someone taught those people how to design and build dairy farm equipment and trucks and milk cartons. Someone built the school where they learned to do that. Someone did the administrative work required to keep the school, trucking company, and grocery school running. Someone maintains the roads. Someone maintains the gas and electrical grid so that the business can continue to stay open. Someone refined the oil into gas so the driver could drive the truck.

Someone spent a significant portion of their life raising you, and teaching you, and clothing you, and feeding you, all so you had the skills to live an independent life of your own, so that you, too, could have a family, for which you might, one day, reach in the refrigerator for a carton of milk to feed them.

And on and on, ad infinitum.

All it takes is 1 or 2 seconds to have that entire picture flash through your head as you reach into the refrigerator. And you could see the same kinds of pictures in every situation you encounter each and every minute of each and every day. There is nothing you do that doesn't require the input of others. To see and appreciate that on a continual basis takes a lot of practice, but very little effort. All you have to do is to consciously look around and allow yourself to recognize and appreciate the unseen kindness of others that allows us to be what we are and to do what we want.

No man or woman is an island. Islands do not exist. No one stands alone, isolated, sufficient only by himself or herself. We are all interconnected. We are all interdependent. Whether i like it or not, your actions affect my actions. Whether i like it or not, your beliefs affect my beliefs. Whether i like it or not, your life affects my life. Whether i like it or not, who you are affects who i am.

The way forward in this world is not to teach ourselves to expect nothing from others, but teach ourselves to see that no matter what we do it depends on the kindness of others and to be grateful for that. Gratitude can be learned and is vitally important.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Brewed, Poured, But Not Savored

I finished reading Hiroyuki Itsuki's Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace, earlier this week and have been mulling it over since. The book is due back at the library today so i guess i have to take it back and let it go.

I'm not sure i've so completely disagreed with a book before, except maybe Thomas Hobbs, which i read long, long ago. I'll have to write more, but a few quick points before walking down to the library to give it back.

"I believe it is necessary for us to completely overturn our view of life and begin from the recognition that life is a process of uninterrupted sufffering. Just as one lives more vigorously after contemplating the closeness of death, cultivating a bleak view of human existence will bring one closest to rapture at the wonder life has to offer."

I do agree that one can live more vigorously by contemplating the certainty and unpredictability of our deaths. It will happen. When? You have no idea. If you accept and understand that down to the bone and marrow level, you stop taking life for granted and find yourself in a position to marvel at the beauty that being can be.

But to suggest that "life is a process of uninterrupted suffering" is completely impossible for me to digest. What i see here is a misunderstanding of the difference between pain and suffering. For all but the most enlightened individuals, life is full of pain — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Some of it is trivial and passed with a shrug of the shoulder. Some of it can be crippling, cutting us down as if chopping off the bottom of both legs.

But, none of this must, necessarily, automatically translate into suffering. A few extreme examples: the guy who, while out hiking, got his arm stuck in a crack between two rocks. The only way to survive was to cut his arm off with his pocket knife, deal with it, and walk out to find help. The girl who was recently attacked by that flesh eating disease. She told the doctors to cut off what they needed to cut off and move on to rehab. She accepted it, dealt with it, and is now boasting that she is in great shape and can do 300 sit-ups at a time.

It's not always easy to get past the pain; some cases can take days, weeks, years, and decades to get past. But just because you encounter it, that doesn't mean you have to accept that life is full of suffering.

"Some may deride this view as negative and pessimistic, but this was the starting point for the Buddha. Emerging from a life of privilege and shelter, he looked directly at the reality of human existence and saw birth, old age, sickenss, and death as its essence. This view of human existence as defined by birth, old age, sickness, and death is the ultimate expression of negative thinking."

Yes, i deride it as negative and pessimistic. I also do not believe or accept that the Buddha would have agreed with it. When he was exposed to the truths of old age, sickness, and death, he took the opposite approach to dealing with them. For the Buddha, these were not signs that life was full of suffering and that there was nothing we could do about it, he said suffering can occur but there must be a way to put an end to it. And off he went to the forest and the bodhi tree. This is the ultimate expression of positive thinking. Yes, i see a problem, but i will find a solution.

"When one is accustomed to kindness, one naturally loses the feeling of gratitude. That's why it's so important not to become accustomed to it. One must continually return to the spiritual starting point of no expectations.

"Husbands should not expect anything from their wives, or wives from their husbands. ...

"Although a person may serve his country, he should expect nothing from the nation or the government. Of course no one should expect anything from a bank, a business, oor an employer. Nor should one entrust one's soul to a temple or a church. One must not look to a thinker or a philosopher to be a guide to life.

"Students shouldn't expect anything of their teachers, nor should teachers from students. ..."

No, no, no, no, no, and no. No. And no again.

No. Anyone, at anytime, anywhere, can learn to be grateful for all life offers with very little practice. A constant watch, a never ending willingness to notice, and anyone can see that the good vastly outweighs the bad in this world. And once you become accustomed to seeing the world through these eyes, you will never be the same.

No again.

"To speak honestly, honesty usually does not pay. And effort is hardly ever rewarded."

I can't even begin to explain how vehemently i disagree with this statement....

"I regard Amida Buddha as a characterization of the infinite life force and the light of truth, created to make these ideas accessible to the masses. Once put into this narrative form, the invisible force of the universe takes on a life and power that can reach and communicate to us.

"Honen, founder of the Pure Land sect, enthusiastically taught the nembutsu as a means to experience the invisible power of the universe and illuminate the darkness of our world."

Finally something i can accept. If you want to see Buddha in this manner, i could agree with it. That invisible force of the universe? The infinite life force. If the nembutsu is a call to that concept, a refuge in the potentiality of all that is, then i could adopt it into my practice.

More later. It's starting to sprinkle and i have a mile to walk to get to the library and then the shop where my car's getting repaired.